Malware, which is short for “malicious software”, has been around for a long time. Its purpose is to infect a computer to steal information or inflict harm, and it comes in many shapes and forms.
Devices can become infected with malware via a network breach or a vulnerable app/software that outsiders can exploit. One of the most popular (and effective) ways for attackers to spread malware, however, is through social engineering. Devices can get infected with malware from someone downloading something or clicking on a link or visiting a malicious or infected website.
Needless to say, trying to avoid getting infected with malware these days is like playing the mystery door game on hard mode. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things people can do to keep attackers at bay and greatly decrease their chances of getting infected. Here are 5 ways people can protect their devices from becoming infected with malware.
1. Protect Devices With a PIN & Protect Passwords
Unlocked devices are easy targets for any criminal that wants to quickly infect a device with their malware through a USB or external drive. It is, therefore, important to lock the device with a password or pin. This provides an added benefit of keeping accounts from being compromised if a device is stolen.
Account passwords should be chosen carefully and stored somewhere safe, like in a password manager. Never write them down or stick them in a document. When it comes to choosing a password, make sure that it cannot be guessed, and never reuse it for any other account. Attackers who gain access to people’s accounts may use them to spread malware to their contacts.
2. Use a Firewall and Reliable Antivirus Program
Antivirus programs scan downloads and files on a computer for harmful code. A decent one will not just protect a computer from known viruses and malware. Good anti-virus software also can detect unknown malware threats by recognizing certain characteristic features. Windows 10 users generally don’t have to worry about getting an extra antivirus program, as Windows Defender does a good job.
A firewall performs a similar function – it scans any data that is trying to enter a network or device. The firewall will then block any incoming malicious code as well as any data packets that look suspicious. A firewall is necessary to keep malware from automatically installing itself via malvertising and malicious websites.
3. Keep Software Up to Date
Outdated software is the perfect breeding ground for illicit activity, as attackers can exploit known vulnerabilities in apps and software. This then allows them to infect a device with malicious malware that they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
To combat this, developers are constantly checking their code for bugs and looking out for ways that code can be misused or circumvented. They then regularly release updates (or at least they should) to patch these newly identified security holes, which is why device operating systems and apps/software should always be kept up to date.
4. Protect Network Connections
Attackers don’t always need someone to do anything to infect their devices with malware. All the attackers need is access to their network connection. From there, they can install malware on the device without a person even noticing, which is especially prolific with public WiFi.
This is why a VPN should be a part of every “cybersecurity toolkit” to stay safe online. What is a VPN? A virtual private network encrypts a connection so that outsiders can’t hop on and see what a person’s doing or gain access to their devices. This encryption acts as a protective layer around the connection – even if connected via unsecured public WiFi hotspots.
5. Be Vigilant
This may be the last item on the list, but it is very much also the most important one. A lot of malware attacks rely on social engineering and phishing techniques. This means they rely on a person being duped into revealing information or doing something, like downloading files or clicking on a link.
There are many in-depth resources out there that explain the types of phishing attempts that exist and what signs to look out for. Be sure to consult these regularly as new types of attacks pop up. But as a general rule, always remember to ignore messages and emails from strangers and be wary of any unwarranted official-looking emails that contain links.
The Bottom Line
Malware and viruses have been a problem since the dawn of the internet. Their purpose hasn’t changed, but how attackers utilize them has gotten more complex. So it’s essential that people stay vigilant and use protective tools that will help keep their devices and networks safe.